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World Heritage Trail (1st Part)

World Heritage Edinburgh Walking Trail

City walking holidays are more popular than you may think and this trail of the eastern “New Town” of Edinburgh begins here at Parliament House Hotel! Our Heritage Edinburgh Walking Trail invites you to explore some of the hidden gems of the World Heritage Site often missed by visitors. It also reveals stunning panoramic views over Edinburgh Castle and Old Town en route. 

This particular trail can be done if you are on walking holiday in Scotland or simply visiting Edinburgh for a day trip. Our Heritage Edinburgh walking tour takes around one hour, with a twenty minute additional option offered.

As you leave the hotel, pause to view the attractive but contrasting architecture which forms our historic building.  Our hotel on Calton Hill in Edinburgh carries some history in itself!

This is Part 1 of our World Heritage Edinburgh Walking Trail. You can find Part 2 and Part 3 here.

Download the map.

Stop 1 – Parliament House Hotel

Interestingly, Parliament House Hotel can claim to be part of both Old and New Town. Sitting on a steep road called Calton Hill, which once was a small village, Calton Hill was Edinburgh’s only link to Calton burial ground. Our Calton Hill Hotel in Edinburgh’s heart sits in front of Regent Bridge, which in the early 19th century opened up a route to the magnificent New Town houses of Regent, Carlton and Royal Terraces.

The hotel itself reflects both Old and New Town. No.15 was built in 1908 reflecting New Town neo classical styles, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Nos.13 – 9 were built two centuries earlier in the tenement style of Old Edinburgh. Both are now listed buildings.

Look out for:

  • The unusual external circular stair tower of the older group of buildings now ‘A’ listed by Historic Scotland.
  • The smooth dressed stone of No.15 and the rougher stone of its older neighbours at 13 – 9. A building of starkly contrasting characters appropriately located in the heart of the city which was Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!

At the hotel entrance turn immediately right up the staircase to visit the rarely visited northern section of the Old Calton Burial Ground.

Stop 2 – Old Calton Burial Ground (North Section)

The Regent Bridge, completed in 1819, dissected the Old Calton Burial Ground.

This little section of the graveyard is rarely visited and is indeed unknown to most of Edinburgh’s citizens. It is a quiet little haven in the centre of Edinburgh despite its grave outlook! Take time to admire the skill of those who carved the stone memorials within. The inscriptions offer tantalising glimpses of the lives of past Edinburgh worthies, including merchants, brassfounders, and ministers.

Look out for:

  • A huge stone cannonball! (Actually the decorative top of a fallen memorial pillar).
  • Skulls and crossbones. Reminders of death carved on the inner walls of the Fleeming (Fleming) family burial chamber. This tomb dates to 1733.
  • A fallen stone from 1762, poignantly dedicated to two deceased children.
  • A memorial with an intriguing engraving of a lighthouse and the motto ‘Lead kindly light’.

Return to the hotel entrance and look left up Caltonhill road.

Stop 3 – ‘High Caulton’

Until the 1800s the street of Caltonhill was known as ‘High Caulton’. Residences in this ancient barony were prestigious. The homes, visible on the North side and reached by a series of steps and raised paths, were built in the 1760s, and were soon occupied by prosperous citizens. Street directories of the 1770s and 80s list several ‘gentlewomen’ of independent means, solicitors and bankers. Bucking the trend was ‘William Woods, comedian’ – no doubt a comedy actor at the nearby theatre.

In contrast, at the bottom of the street, lay ‘Low Caulton’ also known as ‘Beggar’s Row’. This was a notorious area of taverns and houses of ill repute. The proud residents of High Caulton went to great lengths to avoid confusion with their neighbours! In 1763 a letter to the City declares:

‘The street of the Low Caltoun has no connection with the Barony of the High Caulton’.

Look out for:

  • A small obelisk marks the former site of No. 14, the home of Mrs Agnes (Nancy) McLehose who had a passionate love affair with Robert Burns. She is better remembered as ‘Clarinda’ – she and the bard wrote each other secret love letters as ‘Clarinda and Sylvander’. When she returned to her husband in Jamaica, Burns penned for her the moving love song, `Ae Fond Kiss’, capturing the pangs of lost love in words that still echo two centuries later.
  • At the head of the street sits the striking ‘Rock House’, home and studio of famed photography pioneer, David Octavius Hill. His images of 19th century Scotland are held by the National Galleries of Scotland.

Walk to the top of the street to the junction with Regent Road and Waterloo Place.

Stop 4 – Waterloo Place

An unusual view of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town is provided here. Look west along Waterloo Place to see the full length of Princes Street. Edinburgh adopted 27 year old architect James Craig’s design for the New Town in the 1760s. Craig planned two great public squares connected by three major streets. Princes Street was the Southernmost of those three broad parallel streets.

The street was originally named Princes Street after the Prince Regent who later became King George IV. It was not planned as the principal street but, with its open outlook to the gardens and spectacular views of the Castle, it became the most popular street in Edinburgh’s New Town.

From here look out for:

  • “A vast and intricate pile of Gothic masonry”. On the garden side of Princes Street stands the towering Scott Monument, an 1844 memorial to the great Scottish Romantic author Sir Walter Scott. Its 287 steps lead to breathtaking and dizzying views of the World Heritage Site.
  • Across the street is the more frequently visited Southern section of Old Calton Burial Ground. This section is extensive. Although not visited on this trail, the hotel can provide a detailed guide if you wish to explore it further. Three major memorials are however visible from here:
  1. The David Hume Monument 1777. This is the grave of the great Scottish Enlightenment philosopher. A ‘grandly Roman cylinder’ designed by the renowned Robert Adam.
  2. The Emancipation Monument 1893. This commemorates the Scottish Americans who fought in the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln stands with a freed slave looking up at him.
  3. Political Martyr’s Monument 1844. This tall obelisk is dedicated to five democratic reformers deported in 1793 to Australia for their ‘seditious’ views. Only one survived to return.
  • A building which, according to Jules Verne visiting Edinburgh in 1859, looks like a medieval tower. It is the Governor’s House of the 19th century Calton Gaol which housed the gallows for executions until 1930. Now tipped to be the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister!

Head east along Regent Road (away from Princes St.). Glance back to view Lincoln in silhouette.

Stop 5 – St Andrew’s House

Cross over to the south of Regent Road to view the impressive St Andrew’s House, named after Scotland’s patron saint. It was built in the 1930s to house the ‘Scottish Office’ of the United Kingdom government. Atop the tall bays on the frontage, the six half figures represent Architecture, Statecraft, Health, Agriculture, Fisheries and Education. It now houses the administrative offices of the devolved Scottish Government.

Constructed on the site of the Bridewell of the old gaol, it has a rather gruesome secret. The bodies of ten convicted murderers were buried on the site after their execution and remain there today – underneath the concrete of the west car park of St Andrew’s House.

Look out for:

  • The Lion and Unicorn on the Royal Scottish Coat of Arms above the main entrance.
  • Two heraldic shields reflecting the Unionist history of the building – one with the St Andrew’s cross of Scotland, and the other with the St George’s Cross of England.
  • The heading ‘Scottish Government’ reflects the aspirations of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who introduced this term when they won power in the Scottish Parliament in 2007.

Next on our Edinburgh walking trail, head east along Regent’s Road until you reach the top of a staircase labelled ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.

Go to Part 2

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